November 18th, 2010

Owning The Nazi Rhetorical Flourish

by Philip Baruth

Wasn’t too long ago that public figures who crossed the Nazi line — that is, compared a political opponent to Hitler or the Nazis for no apparent reason — were forced to walk back their remarks post haste. No longer. Fox News has almost single-handedly pushed that particular envelope until it’s no longer an envelope at all, but a blank sheet of paper, on which its commentators are free to write whatever they please, regardless of context, proportion, or shame.

The new Nazis, according to Roger Ailes? NPR. Yes, that would be National Public Radio. Says Ailes:

“They are, of course, Nazis . . . . they have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don’t want any other point of view. They don’t even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda. They are basically Air America with government funding to keep them alive.”

Who knew?

All those years when VDB was writing for VPR and occasionally for NPR, thinking that somehow this contributed to a rational political discourse, conducted in measured tones during drive time? Who knew that in fact the entire brown-shirt enterprise would one day be exposed for what it is by the head of Fox News, the unsung defenders of plurality of viewpoint? Crushing irony, to say the least.

You live and learn. At least until Noah Adams and Nina Totenberg come to kill you and burn your school.

November 12th, 2010

It Was Only A Matter Of Time

by Philip Baruth

For those with a little ready cash in this down economy, a sweet bargain just showed up on Craig’s List: “Used nuclear reactor with several years life left in it, fair condition, needs plumbing repairs, TLC. Slate gray exterior, lovely river views. Very motivated seller has already relocated to Louisiana, all offers considered. Contact Wayne for more info.” Asking price $39,999, but no doubt will dicker.

November 4th, 2010

THE EAGLE HAS LANDED; This State Senate Campaign Goes Over The Top; The Cursed Hows and Whys of Reporting Delays; A Constant And Unending Stream of Thank-You Lines; Not To Mention a Touching, Nostalgic “Way We Were” Photo Montage of the Campaign 2009 To Now

by Philip Baruth

In two words: we won. That’s right, this long snaking journey from the Summer of 2009 to the early frosts of 2010 is now history, and according to the chart in the Burlington Free Press this morning, we ran a solid sixth place in a field of sixteen candidates. Which would not be a cause for celebration in any other race but the Chittenden State Senate race, because the top six get sworn in come January, no matter where you place or the size of your margin.

In our case? The margin was just 1750 votes, all told. Not huge, but golden all the same. So why didn’t we report on this election night, shout it from the digital rooftops? Why did we leave folks hanging? Why indeed.

Flashback: Election Night Limbo

Came home from the polls chilled through, exhausted from three days of non-stop compulsive campaigning, and took a long hot shower. Got out to find a text, hinting that the early returns were looking pretty good. But that was a fragment, based on a series fragmentary returns from early towns.

Still, by the time we made it to the Hilton, Winooski was in, and again the results were pretty hopeful. And that trend continued: we never really got a bad result, or if a town came in badly, it was much less badly than it might have come in. Erik Filkorn snagged me to show me a photo on his IPhone, of a handscrawled vote tally out in Richmond, showing us third there. Ann Pugh came by and showed us half the vote tally in South Burlington, which had been problematic in the primary. And that half was just fine. So I started to think all of this was suddenly, maybe, not a pipe dream after all.

But the problem, and it’s a pretty serious one, was reporting. None of the major websites, with the exception of CCTV, seemed to be able to advance the count very much. And so although the hand tallies and the twitter info and the calls from folks on the ground were all good, there was no objective verifiable big name news source to look to for comfort.

Even the Governor’s race had more clarity than ours.

But by midnight, it looked (again, according to CCTV’s very updated and accurate numbers) as though we were solidly in sixth place, to the tune of about 1500 votes. Charlotte, Underhill and Bolton were still outstanding, but couldn’t see any way in which we could lose that many votes in those two locations.

The Looming Specter:
The Dreaded Chittenden Sudden Reverse

Still, there was a very particular specter haunting the projections, and the race in general. Over the last ten or twelve years, at least two or three candidates have been told that they’d won at the Victory party, only to wake up the next day to reshuffled numbers showing that they’d actually lost.

And I’d spoken with two of those folks over the course of this past year, and knew how easily that could happen. And how terribly much it sucked when it did.

Call it the Chittenden Sudden Reverse. Feared it badly.

Sure enough, I woke up in the morning, checked the various websites to find that there was still no real update to the numbers. So I decided to step out for a well-deserved cup of coffee, only to find a Burlington Free Press story saying that our sixth place margin was not 1500, but 150, and that Charlotte and Bolton had yet to report.

No doubt the people who run the Quick Stop where I bought and read that story will remember the accompanying freak-out for years to come.

Common sense said it was a typo; uncommon sense said that it was the early warning sign of a race that would inevitably slip away at the very end.

So we spent much of yesterday dialing around, finding no reporters at their desks. And it’s hard to blame them: they were up all night too, and the Governor’s race was exhausting for them to cover. And Shumlin had scheduled a press conference for noon, to thank his supporters.

But when all was said and done, we didn’t really have solid numbers until yesterday around dinner time, nearly 24 hours after polls closed, and the Free Press didn’t report out the results until this morning’s edition. So the last thing we wanted was a double embarrassment: not just losing an election that had seemed in the bag, but posting a long glowing account of it, only to have it all snatched away when the real numbers solidified.

(Although you have to wonder, somewhere deep in your heart, about even these numbers on this official looking graph in the Free Press. They show Ginny Lyons taking just 144 votes in Milton; turns out, again, that it should have been 1440 votes. Just like that, 1000 votes suddenly reappeared. It’s enough to sour your dreams.)

But honestly, once I had those firm numbers in hand, I didn’t just take a three-hour nap. The three-hour nap took me.

But all that is behind us now.

This election is over, and we won in a whole host of ways. We have another vote now for single-payer, to shut down Vermont Yankee, to aggressively expand broadband coverage. We demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, the reach and power of the netroots; the Burlington Free Press endorsed this campaign partially for its emphasis on new media, and the use of new media to bridge the gap between citizens and candidates, citizens and their elected representatives. That in itself was a watershed moment.

The Serious Thank-You’s

And before I do anything else today, or this week, or this month, I want to try my best to thank everyone who was involved with this long, long effort. The list below is not meant to be exhaustive; more people helped than I can name specifically, and inevitably I’ll leave out even some crucial groups and categories of people, but please know that I couldn’t appreciate your help any more.

Thank you first and foremost to my wife, Annika, and my kids. Suffice it to say that they sacrificed in a thousand ways, which I won’t describe here. And to my Mom and Dad, who both helped in their own inimitable ways.

Thank you to the original core team, the people who agreed to work for microwave popcorn and who put together the outlines of the strategy, the website, the social media, the photography, the campaign film, the logo and design, all the infrastructure. That would be political gurus Jake Perkinson and Selene Hofer-Shall of Theseus Advisors; web brainiacs Neil Jensen and Jim Brayton, of Mine Communications and Long Trail Media respectively; Selene Colburn, who built our Facebook and Twitter presence painstakingly; Kathy FitzGerald, whose photos defined the campaign; cutting-edge filmmaker Bill Simmon, and crack videographer Matt Goudey; and Mike Hannigan and Seth Drury of Methodikal Design in Burlington, whose office is a lovely place to spend a morning looking over sign designs.

These are some very, very, very scary-smart, talented folks, and if anyone out there is already harboring designs on a race for 2012, you’d do yourself an early favor by making their phones ring.

Thanks to the rest of the Brain-Trusters, a kitchen cabinet that included those already mentioned, but also some of the sweetest, canniest folks ever assembled in one living room: Campaign Treasurer Gregg Meyer; Elaine Sopchak, Irene Wrenner and Matt Breuer, our folks in Essex; Mary Lou Kete and John Howe, the Charlotte team; Maggie Gundersen, Erik Filkorn, Laurie Burke; Fred Lane and Amy Werbel; Sarah Suscinski; Charity Tensel, who put together our Tweet-ups; and of course, last but not least, Jim DeFilippi, who made the lawn signs run on time.

Thanks to the Barn-Raisers, all the folks who came out very early and helped us raise our first $10,000 back in 2009, and in so doing made clear that the netroots would have a real place at the table in this election cycle.

Thanks to everyone who hosted a house party for us, and made a case to their friends and neighbors that we could be trusted in Montpelier.

Thanks to the interns, who stepped up and routinely went above and beyond the call of duty: Chris St. Martin, Mark Bateman, Dan Garcia, John Sedak; and the final team of Abby Weiss and Luke Martin, who, along with Luke’s girlfriend Ally, took the campaign through the cold wasteland of the honk n’ waves all the way through election day.

Thanks to all of our donors, large and small.

In fact, thank you, thank you, thank you all. We wound up raising over $40,000 for this race, which seems like a lot, until you consider that we ran a campaign three times longer than the others. But the bulk of that money was donated directly online, by people who believed in the cause. And in that way they put their money not just behind me, but behind our whole approach: people-powered, grassroots-up campaigning.

To all the groups who endorsed us or gave us support in one way or another: Democracy for America, for their Grassroots All-Star Endorsement and crowd-sourcing, and Jim Dean in particular, who was a sweetheart of a guy; the VSEA, the NEA, the League of Conservation voters and others.

To the artistic types who helped us stage a successful mid-summer Benefit, in spite of our own incompetence: MC Jason Lorber, Patti Casey, Woody Keppel, Kathy Blume, Mark Nash, Jay Craven, The League of Drag Queen Voters, and again, Selene Colburn, who stage managed from the word go.

To the endorsers, the folks who risked their tarnish-free reputations in Vermont politics by letting us be publicly associated with them: Matt Dunne, Deb Markowitz, TJ Donovan, Bill McKibben, Peter Welch, Jim Condos, and Gaye Symington.

And to everyone who helped in every way, large and small, people who hosted house parties and wrote encouraging email, people who hosted lawn signs and bumper stickers, and most of all, for those of you who didn’t laugh when I originally proposed this idea. Thank you all. More soon.

[And of course a final hat-tip to Kathy FitzGerald, whose lovely photographs fill out this post as they did so many throughout the last year and a half. Thanks, Kath.]